Yesterday, the CEO of the Vanuatu Tourism Office outlined an ambitious plan to revitalise Vanuatu’s tourism sector. Adela Issachar Aru's organisation aims to increase tourist arrivals by air from just over 100,000 per year to 300,000 by 2030.
In addition to that, she said, the Vanuatu Tourism Office will make significant efforts to encourage tourists to explore beyond the island of Efate. While Tanna and Santo currently enjoy nearly all the outer island revenues, she said, that will change. The organisation plans to use multimedia materials to introduce potential visitors to Ambrym’s Fanla festival, to the seasonal Naghol (land diving) in southern Pentecost, and to countless other little-known attractions throughout the country.
In the short term, the VTO is investing VT 10 million to promote Air Vanuatu’s new service to Melbourne. In all, the Government of Vanuatu has committed to VT 60 million in additional funding to support efforts to develop or improve the nascent long haul market, the Melbourne circuit, and to improve awareness of Vanuatu as an adventure tourism spot.
VT 15 million of that will be devoted to improving the VTO’s digital platforms and website.
The organisation has hired new staff and is developing new approaches to adjust to changing tourist behaviour. People are booking much closer to their departure date, and their decisions are often driven by the experience of friends or trusted people and services on social media.
Industry stakeholders are calling for a much more substantial investment in building ‘Destination Vanuatu’. One industry veteran suggested that VT 500 million in public funds would be needed every year for the next five years, with the money spread across tourism promotion, investor awareness and international outreach and engagement, and general marketing.
Included in Ms Aru’s presentation was a head-to-head comparison with Fiji. In 2017, the last year for which comprehensive tourism numbers are available, Fiji received about 630,000 people arriving by air. Vanuatu welcomed a tad less than 110,000.
By 2023, the VTO aims to have over 165,000 arrivals, with nearly 65% of all travellers originating from either Australia or New Zealand. By 2030, the plan calls for 300,000 incoming tourists, with only 53% coming from the two traditional stalwarts.
Likewise, they’re seeking a wider range of accommodation options, which creates challenges for traditional resort operators, but opens up opportunities for less traditional places to stay.
Coupled with Air Vanuatu’s strategy of more frequent flights to more cities in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, more people will have more chances to enjoy Vanuatu’s many attractions and places to chill out.
Air Vanuatu CEO Derek Nice also emphasised that the airline will make a greater effort to align its flight schedules with other international carriers, so tourists arriving from afar will spend less time at the airport and more time at the beach.
On the Melbourne route, for example, Mr Nice claimed that travellers will be able to fly to Vanuatu, check in to their hotel, and be on the beach by lunchtime.
The VTO plans to move with deliberation. They intend to spend some effort trying to develop counter-cyclical travel in order to reduce the impact of seasonality on travel. They also recognise that diversification is necessary.
In the past, the VTO has frequently been accused of applying the same tactics and hoping for different results. In its defence, the organisation emphasises that its targets are spread over a decade, and that they can manage 10% growth year on year in a sustainable way.
The Office is also promising to do more to convince travellers to spend more time—and money—in the outer islands. If Air Vanuatu is successful in upgrading and expanding its domestic service, this might be a more attainable goal. But historically, Tanna and Santo have received the lion’s share of outer island travel, and their collective share of the overall pie is quite small. Whether the VTO will reach its goal of 30% of visitors traveling off Efate remains to be seen.